President Obama in a speech in the gymnasium of Pathways for Technology Early College High School.
President Obama in a speech in the gymnasium of Pathways in Technology Early College High School.

President Barack Obama returned to Brooklyn to visit a school that until now he’s admired from afar, delivering a speech that touched on everything from Congressional dysfunction to Brooklyn Nets basketball to a tacit endorsement of New York State’s rollout of controversial reforms.

“It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do,” Obama said of the state’s efforts to raise standards in schools through teacher evaluations and the Common Core. “It’s going to prepare more young people for today’s economy. We should stay at it.”

Obama focused his speech on Pathways in Technology Early College High School and the need to revamp high schools across the country to better prepare students to earn college degrees for high-paying, in-demand jobs. Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have pointed to the school for more than a year as the model for that vision.

“I wanted to come here ever since I talked about you in my State of the Union address this year,” said Obama, “because what’s going on here at P-TECH is outstanding, and I’m excited to see it for myself.”

P-TECH was opened in 2011 in partnership with the City University of New York and IBM to provide a six-year high school program that would provide students with a free associate’s degrees. The school has received high praise, almost from the moment it opened, and its model is now being replicated in New York State, Chicago and Idaho.

The school is only in its third year, leading some to question why the president would so eagerly support such a experiment. Principal Rashid Davis addressed the question directly in his opening remarks, saying that P-TECH students who took college courses in their freshman year passed at a higher rate than college-aged students in the same classes.

“We have something better than graduation results,” Davis said. “We have proof that when equity and access are provided to underrepresented populations they can rise to the occasion.”

Obama used part of his 25-minute speech to take shots at Congress following the government shutdown, and he urged lawmakers to spend more on schools in the upcoming federal budget negotiations.

“I just sat in on a lesson called “real-world math,” which got me thinking whether it’s too late to send Congress here for a remedial course,” Obama said.

And he was eager to show off some credibility in his old borough, where he briefly lived after college. He talked about the Nets offseason, the Barclays Center and landing his helicopter in Prospect Park.

“I know Brooklyn in general is blowing up right now,” he said. “When I was living here, Brooklyn was cool, but not this cool.”